October 29, 2009

What’s Your Cancer and Religion Connection?


God talk is embedded in a lot of cancer conversations: “It is all a part of God’s plan.” “The universe is trying to tell me something.”  “God doesn’t give you something you cannot handle.” (Major puke on that one.) “I’ll say a prayer for you.”  These exchanges are so common we rarely think twice about them.  Unless you are someone like me who doesn’t believe in God or the Universe.

Many people say a benefit of cancer is connecting with amazing people you might not otherwise meet.  I agree.  And part of that is meeting people with different religious faiths and beliefs, including non-belief.  In Everything Changes, I met and wrote about an Evangelical Christian, conservative Jew, Buddhist, Muslim, Catholic, atheist, and a follower of Amma.  I had with each of these young adult patients open conversations about faith and illness.  I miss these conversations.  Especially because in the greater cancer community, I often feel it is just assumed that I believe in God.

Last week, a super cute 8 year old girl was petting my dog Moses in the park.  Out of the blue she asked me if I believe in God.  When I told her I didn’t, she asked what I believe in.  I replied: “I believe in people, and that if people want to we can help each other out and make great things happen in the world.” She seemed cool with that.  We talked about her Baptist church and then she skipped away to the swings.  I adored this simple, respectful, uncomplicated conversation.

In the cancer community, my not believing in god doesn’t seem as simple.  A lot of patients and families relay on faith to get through illness.   And sometimes it feels a bit uncomfortable when I acknowledge that faith does not play any role in my healthcare.  I don’t judge anyone else who wants to use faith as a part of their healing.  It just isn’t my own cup of tea.

I was raised Jewish.  Judaism is a religion that does not proselytize, and a religion that is in the minority.  I grew up noticing differences in religions yet never assuming that anyone believed in what my family believed and I never wanted or needed them to.

What role does faith play in your health? Have you met people of different faiths in the cancer community? Do you talk openly about your beliefs?

Read Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s for some cool conversations about health care and faith.

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  1. Cathy Bueti Says:
    October 29th, 2009 at 9:33 AM

    I was raised Catholic. I spent 8 years in catholic school grade school and church every sunday. By the time I was an adult I began to think about what it was I believed in. I do believe in God but I never go to church. I would say that I am more spiritual in my beliefs rather than religious. I don’t really pray but at times I meditate to a higher power.

    I know that my spirituality has helped me get through the tough times from losing my husband when I was 25 to cancer at 31. And everything else since. I believe that all I have gone through has made me stronger and has happened for a reason. I believe in synchronicity….no coincidences. I try to look at all the tough experiences as life lessons and what I can learn about myself. I know many people who poo poo that idea but it is what I believe.

    No matter what your belief system is I think it can help us so much during difficult times like getting a cancer diagnosis. Each time I went through something difficult it instantly changed how I looked at life and has certainly challenged my beliefs many times. But I feel that without believing in something I would be lost…

  2. frank Says:
    October 29th, 2009 at 9:56 AM

    I definitely have a strong faith and I’m one of those people who uses it to help me through. But I don’t talk a lot about it unless the other person wants to go there. With things like this that mean so much to me, I prefer to be somewhat private.
    The worst to me though is the people who refuse to understand that I believe what I believe and you can believe what you believe and it doesn’t have to be the same thing yet we can still have a conversation about it.
    It bothers me a little when people seem to believe nothing, because I seem to see evidences everywhere. But far more annoying is the people who question my own faith and say that I seem to not have the faith I need and whatever. How the heck would they know how pious I am? I don’t show it to the whole world.
    In the cancer community, just as in the rest of the world, there’s a huge variety, and though there’s definitely one right answer for me, I accept that others may not feel that it’s the same right answer for them. Everybody should accept that. When dealing with cancer, we don’t need to deal with any religious idiots on top of it.

  3. Michelle Says:
    October 29th, 2009 at 12:14 PM

    Wow – I am so intrigued to read what other posters will have to say about this. Certainly a touchy topic to be sure…

    My personal view – I consider myself an agnostic. I believe in SOMETHING, though I’m not sure that I submit to the traditional Christian beliefs. I have struggled for years with my faith and have searched for what fits me, and the diagnosis of cancer didn’t help that. Well, maybe it did. I guess I can say that I have faith, but it’s in myself, my family, my friends, etc. I have lost my faith in a single almighty being, and that’s okay. I appreciate and am in awe of people that are able to hold strong to their faith – I almost envy them a little, because I was unable to do so.

    I love your remark about the statement, “God doesn’t give you anything you can handle.” Between my cancer diagnosis, my husband losing his job while I was in the midst of chemo and being unemployed for 6 months, then Levi having to move across the country to obtain a job (leaving me and our two young kids at home), I have heard more times than I care to remember, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” of “There’s a reason for everything.” I have often said, especially of late, that I don’t want to be made stronger – every time something happens that “strengthens” me, something to challenge that strength comes right behind it. I’m sick of being “strong.”

    I had a conversation with a friend recently about this very topic – we both feel that people who tell me that I am going through this because there is a better path for me are saying that to ease their own minds and to give themselves peace. I don’t want to hear that things will get better as long as I make it through this. I want to know that things will get better because of what I have ALREADY GONE THROUGH. Hearing that my pain, my stress, and my agony fulfills some roadmap that an almighty, unseen being has in store for me (and that I had no say in, thank you very much) just pisses me off.

    Sorry – I went off on a tangent there. I’ll end by saying that I could go on and on about this topic, as I’m sure many others can and will do. I do enjoy conversations with people who view religion in a different manner than I do – I’m interested to hear there reasoning, their belief system, and how they got there. I’d like to know what solidifies their belief, because perhaps something they’ve seen or done will convince me. I enjoy spirited, adult conversations in which we can have differeing opinions, agree to disagree, and move onto the next topic of discussion. Until then, I have my own views on organized religion, and I will continue to explore other options.

    GREAT topic! Perhaps a stupid cancer radio show topic? Especially with the holiday season quickly approaching?

  4. Rebecca Says:
    October 29th, 2009 at 1:51 PM

    Wow, I really enjoyed this. Your book is on my Christmas list btw…

    I run into that all the time. I was raised Roman Catholic but as I got older and studied religion more and more, I considered myself Agnostic. When I was diagnosed, a couple of good things came out of everything. One, I really did meet some amazingly incredible people that are now probably a permanent part of my life. Two, the little things DO matter to me. Finally, I’ve swept the toxic people out of my life. I doubt that I ever would have realized that a lot of people in my life needed to go on their separate journeys without my diagnosis.

    The toughest part is when people tell me they do completely rely on faith. I find nothing wrong with it and see it as a personal choice, but it’s not something I do. I welcome prayers just in case something may be out there to help me, but again its just not something that I do.

  5. Alex Says:
    October 29th, 2009 at 1:54 PM

    This is one of the issues concerning cancer that can so easily lead to misunderstanding between well-intentioned people but it’s one that’s so worthwhile exploring. In my own case, I’ve long been an atheist even before my first cancer diagnosis, an experience which in no way caused me to think of religion any differently. If anything, I found my skepticism and lack of religious belief helped me to keep a cool head about my experience and to make peace with my own sense of mortality. I said this not to imply that religious people couldn’t but merely to say that, if anything, my lack of belief was a tremendous source of strength and rationality to me in what was an otherwise crazy experience.

    My second and more recent cancer diagnosis, however, has brought me into contact with a lot of fellow cancer patients, caregivers and survivors with varied belief systems, some of whom do talk about cancer in decidedly religious terms. For example, many people I’ve met have talked about there needing to be a reason for their cancer (by which they mean a non-medical reason) or that it’s part of some plan or that they are being tested. Needless to say, I don’t understand those statements but living in a diverse society such as ours necessitates respecting others’ personal religious beliefs. Many of these people have become close friends of mine and I respect their beliefs out of my genuine respect and love for these friends I’ve made.

    Where I do draw the line, however, is when some people begin telling other people how they should feel or that they should pray or that their cancer is part of a larger plan. It is one thing to believe that personally but quite another to project that onto others. I’ve seen a few instances in which this happens and it strikes me as presumptuous. Perhaps they say this to give comfort or out of a sense of unease at saying nothing. But religious belief is a very personal thing and none of us should ever presume that our personal beliefs are shared by anyone else. What might seem comforting to one can be deeply offensive to another.

  6. Kate Says:
    October 29th, 2009 at 3:01 PM

    I’m a “seeker” and someday I hope to find the right match for me. I was raised Catholic, have studied Buddhism, Mormonism and spent a little time with the evangelicals. None of them match quite right. If I had to define myself I’d call myself a “small c” christian. If there was a church of love and music I’d be their preacher.

    Interestingly, shortly after I was diagnosed I told my husband that I wanted to start taking the kids to church so that when I died they could blame God and not me. We went for a while but that has passed.

    I wish that I had a strong faith that I could have held on to as I was going through treatment and after. I’m even a little jealous of those who do have it. Those who truly believe that their path has been determined and it is their job to follow it.

    As others have said unless you know exactly where someone’s faith lies don’t ever presume. I had a surgeon who asked if he could “pray with me” (I live in the south) and I told him no, I wish I had a camera for his face. But if someone asks if they can pray for me I say sure and thank them. Two reasons. One, it makes them feel better and feel like they’re doing something to help. And two, it sure can’t hurt now can it.

  7. brigita Says:
    October 29th, 2009 at 8:16 PM

    I was raised Catholic. My folks paid good $$ to send me to a Catholic university. I was married in the church. My dad is a deacon. Things were going great until about five years ago when I realized that the church and I were diametrically opposed when it came to anything related to sex and gender equality. We went on a break.

    But the faith examination that I had been doing got seriously fast-tracked by my diagnosis and everything after and, as a result, I am now about 60/40 atheist/agnostic. I am of course keeping this a secret from my family since I shudder to think what would happen if they found out. And even though I live in the same town as the Freedom From Religion Foundation, any time I make any mention of my [dis]belief system, it goes over like the proverbial fart in church.

    So yeah, I pretty much keep it to myself. And my therapist, because she helped me realize that I am processing not one, not two, but THREE serious identity crises: being a cancer veteran, being a parent (happened 5 mos. before diagnosis), and *not* being a Catholic. My belief shift was not undertaken lightly–I sincerely grieved the loss of my religion. While going through treatment, I often wished that I still believed, thinking that it would make the whole process easier. But it was gone.

    With the family and college friend connections I have to the Catholic church, there were dozens of prayer chains started for me, which was incredibly touching. And maybe people just assumed that I still believed the same as them since my crisis of faith had occurred so far from home and so long after school, which prevented my getting a “come to Jesus” talk.

    That said, I pretty much keep my mouth shut when the subject of God and religion come up in cancer settings. No one likes it when someone pisses in their Jesus Flakes. While I do fancy myself as “spiritual” (still trying to hammer out a definition for what that actually means), science is my religion and my cancer clinic is my church.

  8. Kristen Says:
    October 30th, 2009 at 9:00 AM

    I was raised without a religion. My parents- one catholic and one baptist, never forced it on me but were really open to my attending church with friends of many different faiths. I liked going to church with my friends and their families, regardless of their faith. It was a warm experience but I have always questioned there being one God and whether I could follow the “rules” of one faith. I am a modern women with a very open mind and feel no one should tell me how to live my life.

    It has always bothered me a bit when I hear someone’s response to death, cancer, accidents, etc with “I will pray for you”, “Its just God’s will”, etc. I totally respect people who do have faith and are religious but I think they need to respect that not everyone has the same feelings. I do not mean to offend anyone or try to get them to come to the “dark side” with me and not believe. Good for you toI will say “Bless you” in respose to a sneeze, I leave out the God part, as I am blessing you with my concern for your health & well being!

    When I started telling people I had cancer, I got all sorts of promises of keeping me in their prayers and God would not have given it to me if I could not have handled it. It just plain pissed me off and I lost the message that they were just showing me they cared. I don’t blame my cancer on God, I blame it on my DNA, the environment, what I put into my body, and the luck of the draw.

    What has gotten me through my cancer (and my mother’s on going cancer and battle to win the fight with a third round of chemo) is faith in ME, faith in HER, faith in the love and support of my husband, son, and all my family and friends. Faith in medicine and science and my doctors. Faith that I have too much to do and see before I die.

    I have labeled myself agnositc after many years of floundering, as I just don’t know the answer. I continue to engage in conversations with anyone who will talk to me in an honest, non-judgemental way.

  9. Michelle Says:
    October 30th, 2009 at 9:30 AM

    Brigita – I almost spit out my coffee when I read your line about “pisses in their Jesus Flakes.” Oh my goodness – that was too funny. I think you and I are on the same wavelength. Something I have been struggling with (and my therapist has also mentioned to me) is the loss of identity that comes with a cancer diagnosis and then, the subsequent loss of your religion. I think something like a cancer diagnosis forces you to re-evaluate what’s important in life and decide what you want to expend your energy on, including what you HAVE been putting energy into and whether that’s the right way to do it. Interesting….

    Kairol – kick ass topic, and one that I think will provoke some serious deep-thought conversations around many tables this weekend.

  10. anonymous Says:
    October 30th, 2009 at 9:33 AM

    “No one likes it when someone pisses in their Jesus Flakes.” I love it!
    I personally was raised Christian, but have been atheist for quite a while now. I still do a lot of thinking about the spiritual aspects of life, and find a lot I agree with in Buddhist philosophy. But I don’t believe in any sort of being or god hanging out in the sky or whatever.

    My family is religious, and some friends too, and I know I’m being prayed for by lots of people. That doesn’t bother me, since I know it makes them feel better. But I never quite know what to say to people when they tell me they’re praying, or say something about how God will help me or whatever. I mostly just say thanks and let it go, but part of me would like to get into more conversations about it. It kind of bothers me that so many people seem to think that you “need” “god” during tough times. I don’t, and I wish more people would understand that.

    I could go on forever on this topic, but I won’t. Thanks for bringing it up in such an intelligent way, Kairol!

  11. Kairol Rosenthal Says:
    October 30th, 2009 at 5:23 PM

    I fully concur: “No one likes it when someone pisses in their Jesus Flakes” is probably the funniest comment I’ve ever read on my blog. But it is really true. And that is why I love the conversation that is happening here. We tip-toe around religion, but it is a big cancer and identity issue for many of us. This discussion is proof that we can talk about religion and faith without pissing on each others’ breakfast cereals of choice. I am also really heartened by some of the descriptions that you all have provided about the faith you have found in medicine and the comfort and support you gain from not believing in religion. I don’t call myself an atheist – although I suppose that is what I technically am because I do not believe in God. But that word has such dark and dirty connotations. I do have very strong beliefs that bring positive feelings to my life, they just come from sources that are not mystical, spiritual, or religious. Keep the comments coming!

  12. Alex Says:
    October 30th, 2009 at 5:33 PM

    Thank you for opening up this discussion, Kairol. As I mentioned in my earlier comment, I refer to myself as an atheist — as in not believing in gods (what’s referred to as “negative atheism”) — but your reason for eschewing the term might explain why so many other people are reluctant to use the term, even if they don’t actually have a positive belief in a deity. Perhaps it does indeed elicit negative reactions in the broader public. I’m just relieved to see I’m not alone. In any event, for me at least, a lack of belief has been tremendously liberating. I’ve never struggled with trying to understand why I was diagnosed with cancer. I’ve never asked what I did to deserve what is essentially a way of life for me now. Perhaps religion is a support and comfort for some people. For me, it would have been an added burden.

  13. Christina Says:
    October 30th, 2009 at 7:06 PM

    Good subject, again!

    I was raised without religion and never gave it much thought until my diagnosis with stage 4 cancer 6 years ago. I was a confirmed atheist, but occasionally wandered into agnostic territory. I know enough to know that I don’t know everything. Who knows??

    Point here is that at the time of my diagnosis, I was living in a part of the US that is well known for being strongly Christian. I had soooo many people tell me they were “praying for me” and “it’s
    God’s plan” and I would simply say “thank you” because I know that in their world that means “I care”. Sometimes, it’s just a way for people to cope with bad things that they have no control over. OK, fair enough.
    My problems arose when on several occasions it came up during discussion that I have never been baptized. Man, the nasty things people would say to me were shocking. I was told repeatedly by many different people that I was going to end up in Hell because I had not been baptized and had not “accepted Jesus Christ as my lord and savior”. I had calls from total strangers who begged me to allow them to baptize me and to accept Jesus into my life. Some people were very mean-spirited when I would politely say “thanks but no thanks” – I don’t believe Jesus was the son of God, and I won’t lie just to get a “free pass” into Heaven. One woman actually cried for 20 minutes as she begged me to reconsider. Then she said “I’ll pray for your eternally damned soul”. Nice.
    I guess if you hear that enough, it gets under your skin. It certainly got under mine. As I said, I know enough to know that I don’t know everything. What if they are right? I agonized over this for the first 2 years of my cancer, and through ALOT of reading, soul-searching (for lack of a better term) and discussion with people from all walks of life and backgrounds, I just came to the conclusion that I have to be true to myself and what will be will be.

    I am a scientist at heart. My faith lies in things like physics, quantum mechanics, chemistry and biology. And I do believe that if there actually is a God somewhere who will pass judgment on me when I die, he/she will know what’s in my heart and know that I am not a bad person who deserves to go to hell simply because somebody didn’t baptize me. They say God knows all things, so I have nothing to worry about.
    I just have to be OK with that conclusion. Like someone else said here, I get my comfort from facts. Just like any other animal on this earth (and any other planet), I am just a biological entity with a beginning and an end. All things die – it’s natural and normal. I fit nicely into that scheme. And like yourself, Kairol, I have faith in the endless potential of people.
    Thanks for bringing up the subject!

  14. Pat Steer (Gaelen) Says:
    October 31st, 2009 at 12:18 AM

    Oh.my.goddess. ;)

    I was raised late 50s-60s-70s Catholic, parochial school through 8th grade. My name is on a brick in the church that was brand new the year I graduated from the parish school (where they spent 6 years grooming me for the convent.) My first paying job was as secretary for the parish CCD (religious ed) program. All through high school and college, I sang two-three masses/weekend every single weekend and performed in a Catholic musical youth group (think ‘Up with People’ with a Mass…) In college I spent a couple years as a pentacostal Catholic, involved in the campus ministry outreach. But from the time I was in high school, I questioned whether we needed to be in a *building* and a framework of religion and rules to appreciate that there are natural things more powerful than we are as individuals. I would look up in the buildings where I was inciting people to worship and wonder if god was even *in* the building, whether we wouldn’t be better being outside and embracing the world around us.

    And then the dichotomy of being a politically active Catholic woman in an organized church culture that not only didn’t embrace women as leaders and full participants in the faith, in sexuality or in relationships, but actually devalued women in relationship to men, hit me like a ton of bricks. Men were leaving the priesthood, women leaving the convent. I walked away from the organized church…about 20 years before I had an intracerebral hemorrhage and 25 years before my cancer diagnosis.

    One of the stage IV posters on the Colon Club forum once posted that she was going to write a book called ‘Surviving cancer without herbs, religion or crystals…’ Oddly enough, she’s also a singer who regularly performs in her local churches – but I have no idea in what she believes. ;-)

    Following the stroke, I explored buddhism, and I’m very comfortable with many of those philosophies. I also embrace some pagan/wiccan beliefs and philosophies that seem to mirror several first peoples’ belief systems. But where the beliefs become systems, and rituals, is where I tend to part company. I can’t top ‘pissing in their Jesus flakes’ but I’m reminded of a cheesy line Mel Gibson says in Air America when Robert Downey Jr. challenges his side gig as a gun-runner – ‘I never said I was a *good* buddhist.’

    I meditate, daily. I embrace the beauty and the divine ordinary in the world around me. I try not to let it bug me when people lay their prayers on me – I will sometimes gently remind them that I’m a buddhist, I pray by breathing. ;) But it really does bother me when people offer to others that they should just put their trust in god and be healed. Or when a scan comes back clean, and the post is filled with ‘Praise god, by his grace I am healed.’ I’m not sure what bothers me more…that these people are assuming they’ve been ‘healed’ when they’re still in the midst of the first three years, the most dangerous time – or that their god gets all the credit for good results, while docs and medicine get all the blame if things don’t go well. ;)

    I’m also not really comfortable with the all-too-frequent posts on support communities begging ‘please send up your prayers so that I have good scan results tomorrow.’ I’m not sure what god is to them, but I’m pretty sure god isn’t a vending machine where you put prayers in the slot and get out good results (15 Hail Marys = one clean scan.) The Catholic church tried that by selling indulgences so that sinners (and Crusaders) could buy their ways into heaven in spite of their bad deeds…that didn’t work out so well. ;)

    Or hey – maybe it did.
    For me, the divine ordinary of the natural world, the power of science, the inner strength I find in meditation and in looking inward – those are the things I embrace and in which I believe.
    Oh – and here in central NY where weather can make or break your day, it never hurts to pray to the goddess of technical outerwear…

  15. Garnet Says:
    October 31st, 2009 at 1:22 PM

    It is soooo true that just because I now belong to the cancer community, it’s assumed that I believe in God. I feel the same way if I thank someone for praying for me or even tell someone that I’m praying for them, it means that I believe in their same God so it’s all ALLOWED and TRUE. I’m not at all religious but I am extremely spiritual.

    That conversation you had with the little 8 year old…THAT was God in its entirety. In my opinion anyway.

    Having cancer and often losing my grip on strength and thinking positively, I often try to force myself to believe in “everyone else’s” God and then if I do, I’ll be cured and feel all better. I know rationally that’s not true nor is it possible (more harmful than helpful I believe). But still, I try. I pray to whoever or whatever is listening. I beg more than pray, though. Many of my dearest friends are DEEEEVout Christians and although sometimes they scare me, most of the times they are the bestest friends I have, the best supports, etc. I let them pray to God for me and I thank them for it, and they let me do only that without pointing out some Bible verse to get me through the day.

    I’ve been away from your blog for far too long. I’ll try to return more often (that damn Facebook just sucked me right in!). Every time I do return, your most recent post(s) just happens to be about a topic I am currently struggling with! It’s fate. It’s magic. OH! It’s GOD!!! ;) j/k

  16. Jenn Says:
    November 2nd, 2009 at 9:27 AM

    So true! This blog is very timely. I’ve had family tell me lately that I just need to pray and think more positively about my cancer. Usually I just say thank you and switch the topic. Then I find myself thinking, “Maybe I DO just need to think more positively…maybe I SHOULD pray and believe more…” It results in a lot of guilt. I remind myself that they have no idea what to say so they think saying something about religion is safe!

  17. Wendy Says:
    November 2nd, 2009 at 3:42 PM

    HI, for the last 16 years, I have been an orthodox Jew, strictly keeping the sabbath, laws of kosher, and living my life wholly according to religious laws of the Torah, otherwise known as the Old Testament. I don’t know what I believe about G-d anymore. my life was extremely tumultuous, with a sick husband, infertility and so on even before my diagnosis….it’s going on ten years now and life keeps throwing me shit, in Decemeber I will be moving for the second time in 2 years bc my rental apt is being foreclosed on!

    I agree with Kairol whole-heartedly — I believe in PEOPLE (according to the Torah “man” and people were created in the image of G-d) so take that for what it’s worth. Even though my religious practice has been seriously lacking since my divorce and diagnosis, both in 2007, I have been doing a lot of good deeds involving other people..In the Torah there are two kinds of “good deeds” also known as a “mitzvah” in hebrew. Good deeds between Man and G-d (prayer, sabbath observance, dietary laws, etc.) and there are also good deeds btn Man and other Men (the transliteration is literally between Man and his friend) such as respecting your parents, doing a favor for a friend, giving charity, basically doing something for someone in need, whatever that need may be, whether giving a homless person a warm coat or having your friends kids over for a playdate if the mom is stressed and needs an afternoon to herself. And through the good deeds between Man and other Men, we elevate ourselves to a higher spiritual level, irregardless if we believe in G-d. The good and the bad don’t cancel each other out, everyone gets credit for the good (even though it often doesn’t seem that way!!!!!!!!!).

    As an aside, a very religious cousin of mine, well-respected in the community for both good deeds between Man and G-d and Man and other Men, said this to me when I told her how hard I was struggling to keep the sabbath and dietary laws as strictly as I have the past 16 years “G-d knows you’re going through terrible things. G-d does not expect you to maintain the same level (of spirituality, observance, faith, whatever you call it) throughout your entire life. That’s impossible, and G-d takes the circumstances into account. G-d sees every individual according to their potential, problems, trials, needs and specific circumstances.”

    Take that for what it’s worth, maybe even with a grain of salt, and don’t judge yourself harshly, just do the best you can.

  18. anyguy Says:
    November 2nd, 2009 at 9:14 PM

    this is an amazing topic. i’ll be the irritant for the sake of this conversation. Is there a GOD yes. however that same GOD has given people free choice to believe as they choose. i think alot of times. people use GOD as a crutch. in the sense of ” he let this happen cause”. well i disagree sometimes it is just life. i realy think there is a fine line between cancer. for the sake of this conversation. i have a friend named lets call her KAIROL,

    Kairol understands my beliefs and i understand her’s. i think me and my friend have a very good balance. i don’t beat her upside the head with my bible. and she does not beat me up side the head with antheism.

    the problems come when extremist get together cause it gives everyone a bad name.you get the people that beat you up side the head with the bible. and then crazy atheist that yell and scream like a moron….

    people…need to respect each others beliefs…..if you want to believe in GOD like i do great, if you want to know more i’ll take forever talking to you and explaining it.

    however GOD has given everyone free will….and that includes the right not to believe….

    creation–speaks to a creator…

  19. Jess Says:
    November 3rd, 2009 at 12:54 AM

    What an incredible blog topic.

    To Kristen (who posted on 10/30) … I feel like I could have written every word of your post. Like you, I was raised by parents of different religions (my father is Catholic, and my mother is Methodist), and we never attended church. My parents were hippies and are extremely open-minded, loving people. They encouraged me to explore religions and decide for myself what I believe in. I have struggled with wondering about religion my whole life (I am now 33), and I still question and ponder a lot.

    I do not identify myself with any religion, and I am ok with that. I do not believe in organized religion. I feel that religion is the foundation of so many of the world’s problems, and the churches that I have been exposed to seem to be more interested in the money than the worship. For these reasons and many others, I do not believe in organized religion. That said, I completely respect anyone’s religious beliefs, and I do not judge anyone for their faith. What does turn me off is when people preach to me or judge me for not going to church.

    Like many of the other posters here, I have heard “I will pray for you”, “God has a plan for you”, “God will take care of you”, etc., more times since I was diagnosed with cancer a year ago than I can even begin to count. While I know that all of those wishes were meant with love, they don’t do anything for me. Cancer sucks, and I don’t believe that any “god” would allow people to suffer the way cancer patients do. Just my opinions. I love this blog. It is so nice to know that I am not alone in my fears and feelings.

  20. Jonathan Says:
    November 4th, 2009 at 11:38 PM

    Just wanted to chime in here as I thought a lot about cancer and my religion connection. Cancer has actually brought me closer to my spirituatlity and my beliefs. My wife and I were never big church goers, but after we had our daughter we started “church shopping” and found a church that we both love. We’ve made many great friends there in the short time we’ve been members. The church’s motto is “open hearts, open minds, and open doors”, and the best part is that they stay true to this and they do have open minds and respect everyone’s beliefs. They never talk bad about other religions, cultures, beliefs, etc.

    I am not the type of person who is going to force my beliefs on anyone. I completely respect anyone who believes something that is different from mine. But, I have seen so many atheists make fun and go after anyone who believes in God, and that really bothers me. I don’t make go after anyone who says they don’t believe in God, so why would someone come after me for believing? One of our close friend posted a prayer request on her Facebook page for her terminally ill four year old daugher. Someone had the nerve to respond by saying “don’t waste your time praying, there is no God”. That is the stuff that drives me crazy. Our friend has never gone after anyone for not believing, and to see someone post that was just awful.

    I also believe that God doesn’t give people cancer. In the same way, God doesn’t cure cancer. Cancer is caused by man, we just havent’ figured it out yet. Cancer can be cured by man, but again, haven’t figured that out.

    Anyway, just my two cents.

  21. Kairol Rosenthal Says:
    November 4th, 2009 at 11:51 PM

    JONATHAN, thanks for your comment. Certainly religious intolerance comes from many sources, atheists and religious people alike. That is why I am pretty stoked about the comments on this post – regardless of people’s beliefs they are all so respectful, so unlike the inappropriate comment your friend received on facebook. Your comment also brought up another great issue about the kind of practical and emotional support that organized religious communities can bring to people in need. I am so glad you and your wife have found that! All my best, Kairol

  22. Sarah Says:
    January 8th, 2010 at 9:31 PM

    To borrow the words of Dick Francis, “Historically, more people have died of religion than cancer.”

  23. ChemoBabe Says:
    January 20th, 2010 at 11:48 AM

    I find the Dick Francis quote polemical and not adding to the respectful quality of this thread.

    I mean, seriously, what does the postmortem look like when one “dies of religion”? That is way too broad of a sweep to have any real place in this conversation. I can tell you what it looks like when somebody dies of cancer, both descriptively and biologically. Let’s keep apples and apples together.

  24. Jon Says:
    January 21st, 2010 at 9:23 PM

    people choose religion and know the sacrifice that could come with it.

    i have not met anyone that has chosen to have cancer……

    that is not a fair comparison.

    compare apple to apples and oranges to oranges….

  25. Ryan Says:
    January 22nd, 2010 at 1:12 AM

    I understand that religion provides many good things to many people. It provides strength and comfort to many people who are faced with illness or loss. It provided the motivation for many of the progressive movements that have improved society – from the civil rights movement in the U.S. to liberation theology in Central America. It continues to provide important social services to ex-offenders, homeless people, and others who are in need. We should all praise and respect these valuable contributions of religion.

    We must also acknowledge, however, the detrimental impact that religious worldviews can have on society, including on addressing illnesses such as cancer. We will only find the ways to prevent or cure cancer through scientific research and humans coming together to solve our problems, rather than leaving it up to God. Unfortunately, many religions are focused on faith, rather than reason, and the afterlife rather than improving humanity. So, while we praise the valuable role that religion can play for cancer patients, we must also recognize the barriers that it can put up to effectively addressing the societal scourge that is cancer.

    I also have to disagree with both ChemoBabe and Jon regarding whether it is appropriate to compare cancer to religion. It is true that cancer does not have the significant upsides for individuals and society that religion has. Both religion and cancer, however, share huge downsides for society that do lead to death and despair.

    ChemoBabe – I think Francis is correct. Religion has killed more people than cancer. The post-mortem when one “dies of religion” looks like: The victims of the Crusades; the victims of the 9/11 attacks; Women who die from back-alley abortions because some religious folks have decided to impose their morals to deny the right to choose; Parkinsons patients who will die before their is a cure because some religious folks are opposed to stem cell research; Thousands of dead American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis because some religious leaders have told their followers that preventing gay people from marrying and forcing kids to pray at school are more important things to base one’s votes upon than stopping an unjust war.

    Jon – I think you are correct that many people choose religion with the knowledge of the sacrifice that some faiths entail. But I believe Dick Francis makes a good point that there are fewer people who die of cancer than there are people who die because others think they chose the “wrong” religion.

    None of this is to say that religion is bad or that religion does not provide a valuable benefit for individuals and society. However, we must acknowledge the downsides that religion provides. The simple fact is that policies carried out in the name of religion have killed and continue to kill large numbers of people, just as cancer has and continues to do. As a society and as individuals, we need to address both.

    I agree with what so many other commentors have said. I too appreciate being able to have this forum to speak openly and honestly about cancer and religion, especially because I am a caregiver of a young adult cancer patient.

  26. M R G Says:
    March 2nd, 2010 at 2:06 PM

    There were many comments that struck a chord with me but Brigita, yours struck especially close to home.
    Diagnosed in my mid-30s, and after having been heavily involved with my religious community (while believing in God more or less intellectually), I found it to be a huge loss when I could no longer “play along”. Worse, I was pretty ticked at the god I didn’t believe in.

    It really _is_ an identity crisis and identity loss. I’d never seen it that way and I was struck by that. Four or five years later, I’m still struggling with where I fit religiously.

    Thank you for that perspective.

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